Hulu Plus subscribers can get their Moog on with Sun Ra during a 1978 avant-garde performance. The A.V. Club reviewed the episode, writing: “Sun Ra might just be the oddest, least commercial artist the show has ever booked. Performing in what appeared to be a shirt-shaped prism, Ra finished and the season on a trippy, psychedelic, droning medley of “Space Is The Place” and “Space-Loneliness.”
In Lorne Michaels’ 1986 kitchen-sink episode, Francis Ford Coppola co-hosted (with Cheers star George Wendt) and minimalist composer Philip Glass was the musical guest. But Michaels went a step further and let Glass rearrange the iconic opening credits song, replacing it with his “Façades” — which was originally created for the 1982 film, Koyaanisqatsi, but went unused. Splitsider writes:
The credits were different. The opening credits were also styled like the credits from an artsy, deadly serious Coppola movie. The only other time the credits were severely altered was when the whole cast dressed up as apes in the similarly thematic Charlton Heston-hosted episode in 1993; they dropped the bit a third of the way into the show. Not on the Coppola episode. Oh, and the music was different, too. Apparently wanting to attract the apparently sizable avant garde composition crowd channel surfing after the late local news, as avant garde music fans are wont to do, Michaels allowed the night’s musical guest, Philip Glass, to provide a new music for the credits of SNL. This was the only time the Coppola/Glass credits were ever used on SNL (and they were replaced with the regular saxy credits in reruns).
In 1978, art rock weirdos Devo performed their Rolling Stones cover “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The gag here is that the real Rolling Stones performed on SNL a week before. We can imagine general audiences were probably confused by a bunch of nerds in yellow jumpsuits and sunglasses performing the horny Stones anthem.
Björk, 1988. Her first solo single “Human Behaviour” hadn’t hit the MTV airwaves yet, so this must have been a real WTF for SNL audiences.
Cruise appeared on SNL in 1990 filling in for scheduled performer Sinéad O’Connor, who refused to play the same show with guest host and controversial comedian Andrew Dice Clay (we can’t say we blame her). Twin Peaks fans are familiar with Cruise from her musical contributions, but she’s still not known by the general public. In May 1990, Twin Peaks had only been on the air for a month, so the soft-spoken Cruise’s performance of “Falling” must have been felt somewhat out of place.
Celtic punkers The Pogues appeared on SNL in 1990, drunk as can be. Pogues guitarist Philip Chevron writes:
I honestly don’t think we did “Battle Of Brisbane” for SNL, but it was St Patrick’s Day and I was ver ver drunk, so I can’t say for certain. I do know we were not playing “Battle” in the set at that point, so it seems likely that if we were ever going to launch into an instrumental for whatever reason, it would have been “Repeal”, which has almost never NOT been in the show. However, to the best of my knowledge, we played only “White City” and “Body Of An American”.
In other words, drunk.
Late SNL announcer Don Pardo played a part in one of the show’s weirdest performances by Frank Zappa in 1976. It was the musician’s first time on the show. Open Culture writes of Zappa’s rocky relationship with the series:
Belushi figures in the performance of another musician banned from the show—Frank Zappa—who served as both musical guest and the show’s host. Zappa’s pompous attitude alienated most of the cast and crew in his first, and last, SNL appearance in 1978. Nerve names Zappa the second worst host in the show’s history, citing his “suffocating air of smugness and unconcealed contempt for what he’d agreed to do.” During the usually chummy closing credits, “the cast members, obliged to join him onstage, clustered near the edge as if fearing his personality might be contagious.” All but Belushi, who also joined Zappa and band onstage as Samurai Futaba during their third number. As the clips above, here, and here demonstrate, even SNL‘s second worst host could still inject a good bit of wit and energy into a show that’s often wanted for both, not to mention the most well-rehearsed band in both avant-rock performance art and live televised sketch comedy.